I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: November, 2013

Cartwheels

handstands-6547863handstands-6547863handstands-6547863

I Am Not Playful!  (But, If It’s Not Too Late, Could I Be?)

On our morning rush to the train station, we drove by a neighbor whose 8-year-old daughter was waiting for her school bus and happened to do an amazingly perfect cartwheel just as we passed by.  “Ah,” I smiled.  “I remember when I was good at doing cartwheels!”  Pause.  “Who am I kidding?  I was never good at cartwheels!”  We laughed.  The daughter of unathletic scientists, I grew up as a bookworm – usually one of the last to be picked for a softball team.  After all, I throw like a girl.  Any athletic ability I have has been hard-won as an adult.

I remember wanting to be good at cartwheels.  Every year we would get to the gymnastics part of the P.E. curriculum and I would be in awe of (and jealous of) the girls who seemed to effortlessly fly through the air.  These girls were pretty and social with each other, banding together with seeming ease and confidence.  I was not one of the popular, pretty, confident girls.  (Though I pretended to be one when I was a older.)  When I was 8, practicing cartwheels in my front yard, I was a watchful and lonely only child who was afraid of going upside down in a cartwheel or a handstand.  Practicing over and over again for that fleeting blissful moment when I felt a hint of that thrill when I maybe kind of sort of did it.

I have experienced that thrill in yoga, practicing handstand over and over again, flying upside down – against the wall, of course!  Sometimes there are fleeting blissful moments when I feel perfectly balanced and hover away from the wall.  It’s enough to make me wonder if I could do a cartwheel.  At 51.  Maybe kind of sort of.  Maybe it’s not too late.

Like life, I show up at yoga, bringing every facet of my personality and all my emotions.  Good, bad, embarrassing.  All of it is on my mat.  There is my regular class, where I feel deeply connected to my teacher, am friends with the other students, and feel confident of my abilities as yogini.  I situate myself in the back row with the other regulars, checking in with my friends and even joking around – like high school seniors goofing off in the back of the bus (not that I was ever a back of the bus kind of girl).  Then there is an assortment of classes in Manhattan that I slip into irregularly.  I might know the teacher, but I don’t really know the other students.  I breathe, enjoy the sensation and familiarity of the poses, and the feeling of sneaking some peace in the middle of my work life.  Manhattan has the trendy, competitive thing going on.  Classes can be crowded, the average age is about 30, and everyone knows their way around Surya Namaskar A and B, jumping back to Chaturanga while nonchalantly tossing in a handstand.  I expect the crowded competitiveness in Manhattan and deal with it by ignoring it.  Aggressively.  Refusing.  To Participate.  I have found some quieter classes where there is a wider range of ages and abilities where I feel more comfortable.

So, it’s with some surprise that I have found myself struggling in my suburban local studio where I did my teacher training and feel at home.  Checking out some of the more advanced classes that don’t always fit into my schedule, I’ve found them crowded with people I don’t know.  Hey, this is my place!  What are you doing here?  I have found myself feeling on the periphery as the regulars take their place.  Sizing myself up against the group and feeling like I don’t measure up.  Younger, stronger, more confident.  It’s enough to make me want to not even try.  That’s how I deal with competition.  I shouldn’t have to prove myself.  Hang on though, why is competitiveness showing up on my mat anyway?  That’s not yogic!

The teacher – one of the younger, popular, pretty ones who I simultaneously adore and am jealous of because she seems to sail through life with a sense of humor and a keen sense of love and compassion for others, possessing a range of qualities that I regularly feel lacking in – urges us to be playful and to get in touch with our inner child as we attempt some challenging arm balances.  Sigh.  I hate being urged to be playful.  I Am Not Playful.  But I know what she’s aiming for and I love her so I try to go with the flow.  With each vinyasa though, I get angrier and increasingly frustrated.  I don’t want to work this hard and I can’t “do it.”  The regulars are doing it, why can’t I?  In the past I would have been in the front row proving that I can do it.  I don’t want to prove it any more.  Wait, that’s not true, I do want to prove it.  The conflict makes me feel angry and sad.  And kind of victim-y.  Am I going to have to phase out advanced classes from my repertoire?  Have I hit my peak and it’s downhill from here?

Is it too late?

I look inside for my inner child.  My inner child is anxious, watchful, and lonely.  She is not helping me find a playful approach to arm balances.  In fact, she’s just making me feel angrier and sadder and more sorry for myself.  I lie in Savasana weeping.  Sad that I am not playful.  Sad that I was such a forlorn little girl.  Angry at feeling out of place in my home-base studio.  Angry at not being “the best” at yoga.  Jealous of the teacher for being so popular and easeful.  Jealous of the other students for being so strong and self-assured.  And tired, so tired, of not being able to find the joy.  Ready to slip out of class unnoticed and invisible, my community of yoga teachers and friends notices me and my tears and embraces me with love and compassion.  Perhaps I do not need to be anxious, watchful, lonely, and unnoticed anymore.  Perhaps I can let my forlorn inner child go.  I may never be a very playful person but I can be joyful and grateful.  After all, my body is healthy and strong and I have loving friends and family.

I remember buying yoga pants once and the size that fit was “Large.”  All I could think was, “Gee, if I’m a large, what are the large people wearing?”  And so it goes.  If I am struggling in yoga class, what do the less experienced people do?  Well, I think they don’t even show up.  And that’s a shame.  Because the benefits of yoga come from breathing and meditation and the process of discovering.   A person of any age and any level of fitness can breathe and meditate and discover herself.   Perhaps that is my next step as a yoga student and a yoga teacher.  There will always be someone “better” than me.  The trick is in finding some peace in the process, some joy in the discovering, and sharing it with others.  Maybe I will never do exotic arm balances, but maybe, just maybe, I will kind of sort of do a cartwheel someday.  Or maybe, more importantly, I will help some inner girl to do a cartwheel.

10 Questions

common1

Conversations with the Mother of a 12th Grader

When I was a new mother, it seemed like there was a finite timeline placed on the parenting experience, concluding decisively 18 years later with COLLEGE.  At the time, that seemed like an eternity away.  Now that it’s quite suddenly here, I am deeply aware that motherhood does not end when they leave for college, nor do I want it to end.  As I sort through how best to help my daughter navigate the college application process, I find that the well-meaning curiosity of the people in my life tends to heighten my anxiety and, frankly, my anger at the process.  On a daily basis, the questions go kind of like this:

  1. So, got those applications in?
  2. No?!  She’s not applying Early Action?
  3. Isn’t the deadline soon?
  4. Where does she want to go?
  5. Oh.  Pause.  So, she decided not to apply to Harvard?
  6. Or:  Oh.  Pause.  Wow.  What’s her safety school?
  7. Where are her friends applying?
  8. How’d she do on her SAT’s?
  9. What does she want to major in?
  10. Somehow we all manage to pay for college!

They are not satisfactory conversations, and I don’t help.  I put on my cheerful and confident persona – making jokes or giving curt answers – masking the intense anxiety I have and minimizing the potential for a genuine conversation that is honest and connecting.  My anxiety prevents me from revealing how I really feel, which goes kind of like this:

  1. How much should I help?  Should I sit down next to her until she’s done and presses the submit button or should I let her struggle with completing the applications on her own?
  2. How high should she reach?  There’s so much pressure to apply to top tier schools, but what if she doesn’t get in?  Or worse, what if she does get in, but we can’t afford it?  I am jealous of and angry at the more affluent families who are legacy’d in to the top tier schools and have the money to pay for it.
  3. Where will she be happy?  What if, like me, she has trouble adjusting and her confidence wavers?
  4. What if she has little trouble adjusting and doesn’t miss me?
  5. What if she gets in somewhere far away and wants to go?  Do we let her?  I am going to miss her.  Should I tell her how much I am going to miss her?
  6. Should I advise her to be pragmatic and follow a path that pays well or should I advise her to follow her heart?  Can one do both?
  7. How are we going to pay for college?  When do I get to start working less hard?
  8. I’ve go to do this again with my son in 3 years?!
  9. I can’t believe 18 years have gone by.  I am afraid I have squandered these years with my own career ambition, short-changing my children and my time with them.
  10. When I left home for college, I never returned.  What if she never returns?  May she and I do a better job at creating a loving and connected adult mother-daughter bond.

If I were more open with how I feel about the college application process, I imagine that the questions could go more like this:

  1. Hey, how are you and your daughter handling the stress of applying to college?
  2. It’s okay that she has no idea where she wants to go what she wants to do.  She’s only 17!
  3. You must be so proud and excited for her!
  4. How’s your husband doing?  This must be hard for him too.  Are you able to take advantage of the opportunity to spend more time together and reestablish some closeness in your marriage now that it’s not all about the kids?
  5. Yeah, finding the balance between letting her do it at her pace and nagging her is challenging.
  6. It’s hard to let them go.  I cried a lot too.
  7. You’ve raised an amazing girl.  You are a good mom.  She is happy and will do well.
  8. She still needs you and loves you.  Your relationship will evolve to a new place.  You are not your parents.
  9. Your son is different and you will be different when he goes through the process.
  10. What a time of transition!  What next?!

Indeed, what next?  I will tell her I am going to miss her.  I will help her as much as she will let me.  Together, as a family, we will find a school that makes sense for her.  We will help her leave home.  And we will welcome her back home when she needs, or just wants, our love.

“Spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits”

Shrinking Women, by Lily Myers – a Mother’s Perspective

A young and pretty, seemingly gentle and polite, college-aged woman steps up to the microphone.   She is slender, wearing a dress.  She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.  Preparing herself to take up space and say what few dare to say.  I listen, transfixed, as the words calmly, rhythmically, insistently pour out from her.  This brilliantly crafted slam poem, Shrinking Women by Lily Myers, captures women’s conflicted relationship with food (and men) and the role that our mothers (and fathers) play in passing down attitudes and behavior towards food.  We are, like her mother, “… a fugitive / stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.  / Deciding how many bites is too many / How much space she deserves to occupy.”

Our obsession with thoughts of food takes up space in our brain that could be used to greater purpose, or at least another purpose.  Like the important details she missed in a school meeting when wondering whether or not she could have another slice of pizza, I too have sat in important business meetings and focused more on the plate of gooey, rich, delicious brownies in the center of the conference table than on what is being said or what I could be saying.  (Is the brownie worth the calories?  How many calories is it anyway?  If I eat only half a sandwich, then I can have half a brownie.)  Have we women missed chances for greatness because we were too busy wondering what, if anything, we could eat?

My obsession with thoughts of food has receded as I’ve gotten older and become less interested in quantities of food, more uncomfortable when I overeat, and a master at orchestrating my disciplined repertoire of regular meals while accommodating the rest of my family’s appetites.  It was different when I was younger, regularly swinging between eating a lot of “bad” food and then punishing my over-indulgence with an abstemious diet and a lot of exercise.

When I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter, 18 years ago, I vowed to raise a girl with a healthy relationship to food and a proud enjoyment of her body.  I fear I have failed.  In my desire to model “normal” food behavior, here is what I fear I have taught my daughter instead.

  1. Bye, I’m going to yoga now!  = Thin and fit is good.  Prioritize eating healthy food and exercising over other activities and even people.
  2. How do I look? = Looking good is important in order for people to think well of you, even if you have to shop beyond your means.
  3. Breakfast is ready!  = Don’t skip meals, especially not breakfast.  But don’t eat too much!  Control your appetite!
  4. Quinoa and chick peas for lunch.  = Be self-deprecating about your healthy food choices, relegating them to breakfast and lunch while enabling men and others to make fun of you while they opt for larger portions, red meat, and, of course, dessert.
  5. I’ll just have a bite of yours.  =  Dessert is forbidden.  Control your appetite!
  6. I prefer 85%.  = Hide your chocolate so you can enjoy it in private without revealing that you do love and desire deliciousness after all and are not always in control.

No wonder my daughter long ago declared that breakfast made her nauseous and irregular meals have become her norm.  Like Lily, she has been taught accommodation.  Tired of my judgement, but too obedient to rebel, she also swings between respectful mimicry and impatient hatred, as she explores just how much space she is entitled to take up.

I hope that she cherry-picks what she has inherited from my food habits, taking what is constructive and enjoyable while discarding what is destructive about my obsessive control over nutrition and portion sizes as she finds her own way.

And that she never apologizes for asking a question…or for taking up space.

Here is the full text of the poem.  I encourage you to watch the video of her powerful performance.

Shrinking Women

By Lily Myers

Credit:  Button Poetry

Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that

she drinks out of a measuring glass.

She says she doesn’t deprive herself,

but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork.

In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her

plate.

I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it.

I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it’s

proportional.

As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast.

She wanes while my father waxes.  His stomach has grown round with

wine, late nights, oysters, poetry.  A new girlfriend who was overweight as a

teenager, but my dad reports that now she’s “crazy about fruit.”

It was the same with his parents;

as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red

round cheeks, round stomach

and I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking

making space for the entrance of men into their lives

not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave.

I have been taught accommodation.

My brother never thinks before he speaks.

I have been taught to filter.

“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” He asks, laughing, as I eat

the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.

I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,

you have been taught to grow out

I have been taught to grow in

you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each

thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every

other week from shouting so much

I learned to absorb

I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself

I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for

oysters

And I never meant to replicate her, but

spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their

habits.

That’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.

We all learned it from each other, the way each generation taught the next

How to knit

weaving silence in between the threads

which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,

skin itching,

picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like bits of

crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to

kitchen to bedroom again.

nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive

stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.

Deciding how many bites is too many

How much space she deserves to occupy.

Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her,

And I don’t want to do either anymore

but the burden of this house has followed me across the country

I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with

the word “sorry”.

I don’t know the requirements for the sociology major because I spent the

entire meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza

a circular obsession I never wanted but

inheritance is accidental

still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: